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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs 10 Takeaways: The end of a character road trip

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The Habs arrive home from their holiday voyage with a 4-1-2 record.

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs
  1. The Captain is captaining

Max Pacioretty has 10 points in his last 10 games, including seven on the seven-game road trip. It took him 20 seconds to open the scoring on enemy ice last night. He scored the overtime winners in Nashville and Dallas on back-to-back nights. He has 19 goals just shy of the half-season mark. He’s survived Shea Weber shots and laughs at pain.

Being a captain consists of so much more than scoring goals, but to see Max caught up to his regular pace after the slow start to his season (that involved a growing crescendo of exhausting narratives) points to more than just his talent, it points to his character.

2. Michael McCarron is making management’s decisions easy

McCarron has been playing his heart out and doing his job in such a way that he should be in the NHL to stay. He’s been responsible and possesses good hockey sense. He defended a Matt Martin hit on Jeff Petry and then scored the only goal in the third period, to put a cherry on top of his story last night. Not bad for a rookie.

3. They’re doing it with the IceCaps!

It can’t be emphasized enough that the points just keep coming, whether at home or on the road, and this with Alex Galchenyuk playing his last game more than a month ago.

The Canadiens are still enjoying a 10-point lead on second place in the division, and sit third-overall in the league — five forwards and two defencemen shy of an NHL squad.

There is a big difference between this year’s team and last year’s team. Last year they were missing Carey Price, yes, but this season’s club is not depending on him to win games. It’s been a good enough sample size already. At some point, intangibles of leadership and character have to be accepted as a factor that turn into this success.

4. Therrien is trusting the kids

He has to if he’s sticking to the four-line system, but he is. And the way that the IceCaps — who play the same system — have been responding with a good work ethic and responsible play has shown up in the final results. McCarron has been a factor, and Nikita Scherbak, who McCarron predicted would have a big night, scored a goal in his first NHL game: a tie-breaker with just two seconds left in the first period.

Artturi Lehkonen is another favourite who Therrien relies on, and he also scored last night, and came close to getting two. This is very results-based analysis, but this is a business of results. And the results have been impressive. Consider what the Canadiens pointed out last night: Scherbak is the 30th player to suit up for them this year. That’s the most of any team in the NHL.

5. The Eastern Conference hates Shea Weber

Weber involved himself in the melee on Zach Hyman after the Leafs player ran Carey Price, which ended up doing Hyman a favour since Price looked ready to beat the crap out of him. Then Weber took not one but two penalties again against Hyman after the clock ran out on the second period.

This resulted in much pearl-clutching across Leafs nation on social media. Every team needs that player they hate on the opposing team, and last night, that guy was Shea Weber. There is a reason Jonathan Toews was doing cartwheels when Weber left his division. There is a reason that no team in the Atlantic Division comes close to the Canadiens, IceCaps, et al.

Oh, and meanwhile, Weber quietly also picked up two assists last night — on Pacioretty’s opening marker and a primary assist on Alexander Radulov’s goal 36 seconds into the second period — and led the team with five shots on goal.

6. Speaking of Alexander Radulov

He and Pacioretty have been huge difference makers. After an adjustment period in Galchenyuk’s absence, he strolled in to a statement game in Nashville and literally shushed fans when leaving the ice. He scored his 10th of the season last night, and again was involved in two goals on enemy ice.

Watching him with the puck and the enthusiasm with which he plays and that he shows for his teammates, it’s obvious his heart is full for this game and relishes silencing opposing teams’ crowds. Montreal has to keep him; he is too much fun and is having too much fun. He’s been a big part of changing the chemistry of the team in a way that doesn’t just please his teammates, it’s a joy for the fans.

7. Plekanec had a good night

A primary assist on the Lehkonen goal, three shots, three blocked shots and two hits. He hasn’t been finding the back of the net, but he is doing good things, and he played with determination last night. It hasn’t been Plekanec’s best year, but he is turning a corner. This is a proud veteran.

Also, just wondering - did anyone notice Auston Matthews last night?

8. Character win on a big night for Michel Therrien

There were a lot of narratives going into last night, not the smallest of which was that the Leafs were riding a hot point streak, and Toronto media was pretty giddy with the ‘Leafs are ahead of schedule’ narrative. It was also the night that Therrien could pick up his 400th win. In the last game of a seven-game road trip, in Toronto.

Maybe the guys didn’t even know about Therrien’s milestone. Maybe Therrien did, but didn’t care. Maybe he did. But whether anyone was paying attention to it or not, they showed up to work and got a character win under circumstances of seven injuries to the regulars, ending their road trip on a good note, getting five goals from five different players, including three from rookies.

They also imposed themselves physically. Yes, the Leafs were playing a back-to-back, but every team has to deal with that, and on a Saturday night playing the Montreal Canadiens IceCaps at home, well....

Michel Therrien gives all the credit to his players, but he coached an excellent road trip and earned his 400th NHL win last night. They came to win.

9. There’s no place like home?

Despite picking up points in every city but Columbus on the road trip, the Bell Centre is the Habs’ sixth player. There’s a home game against Washington on Monday, and then the Habs hit the road again for two back-to-backs before going back home next Saturday. Despite early criticism of the Habs’ road record, in 20 road games this season, they’ve only failed to pick up a point in six of them. Six.

10. Marc Bergevin is a good general manager

The ‘bend-not-break’ factor has been a success this season. Bergevin made an immediate culture change in the room by adding noted character guys Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw. Nathan Beaulieu has called Weber his idol, and Shaw his favourite player.

Fans stepped towards the ledge when Galchenyuk went down in Los Angeles at the start of the injury spiral, facing a long road trip at the end of December.

Enter the IceCaps, who, again, play Therrien’s system in St. John’s. Price is the best goalie in the world, but he’s not the one who’s scored 124 goals so far — which is incidentally only six shy of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

To put it mildly, Marc Bergevin has made decisions that haven’t met with fan approval, but he gets paid to make hockey decisions for his organization. Forty games into the season, everything is coming up Bergevin.